Trial Testimony Tips
A courtroom can be an intimidating place especially from the vantage point of the witness box. If you have never testified at a trial before, it’s hard to envision how to act and what to say. There are common sense measures you should follow such as dress appropriately, be on time, treat everyone with respect but there are also more nuanced trial testimony tips that you may not have considered and are important to keep in mind while on the stand.
- Listen to the question. Do not answer until you have heard the entire question.
- Be sure you hear the question. If the lawyer lowers his or her voice or a noise in the room prevents you from hearing every word, ask to have that particular question repeated.
- Understand the questions. Before you attempt to give an answer, make sure that you understand the question. You cannot possibly give a truthful and accurate answer unless you know what is being asked. If you do not understand, ask the lawyer to repeat the question. The lawyer will probably ask the court reporter to read the question aloud. Keep a sharp lookout for questions with a double meaning and questions that assume you have testified to a fact when you have not. Make sure the question is exact. If the opposing lawyer asks, “What about the hours?” ask him to explain what he means. If you are not certain about the meaning of a word, do not be embarrassed. Ask the lawyer to explain it. Do not attempt to help the questioner by saying, “If you mean this, than my answer would be…”
- Take your time. Do not hurry. Give each question the thought it requires and formulate your answers carefully. Do not give a snap answer without thinking.
- Do not volunteer information. Listen carefully to each question and answer only what is asked. Do not ramble or elaborate. If opposing counsel wants an explanation, he or she will ask for one. If your lawyer wants you to explain further, your lawyer will ask when it comes time for his or her questions. Do not try to assist your counsel as it may turn out to be harmful to you.
- Do not worry about silence. The other lawyer may be thinking of the next question. Do not be tempted to fill the silence with words. Keep quiet and wait.
- Repetitious questions. You may hear the same questions more than once. If your original answer was accurate, stick to it – even if you are challenged. Do not let opposing counsel shake your confidence.
- Speak slowly and clearly. Do not nod or shake your head in response to a question. Answer audibly. The court reporter must hear your answer in order to record it. If you point or motion, try to describe what you are pointing to or indicating. It is up to counsel to describe for the record what you are pointing to or indicating.
- Beware of compound questions. Answer only one question at a time. If you are confused by a complicated or multi-point question, ask to have it repeated and clarified.
- Do not look to your lawyer for help. When you are being questioned, you are on your own.
- Beware of questions involving distance and time. If you estimate, make sure that everyone understands that it is your best effort to answer the question accurately. Think clearly about distances and intervals of time. Be sure your estimates are reasonable.
- Never attempt to explain or justify your answer.Give the facts as you know them. Do not apologize or attempt to justify those facts; any attempts to do so would make it appear that you doubt the accuracy or authenticity of your own testimony.
- Give only the information that is readily available to you. If you know an answer to a question, answer it. If you do not certain information, do not try to answer. Do not turn to your counsel and ask him or her for the information and do not ask another witness. Do not promise to get information that you do not have at hand unless your lawyer advises it.
- Do not search for documents. Donot reach into your pocket for documents unless your lawyer requests it. The purpose of your testimony is to elicit the facts that you know, not to produce documents. If the opposition is interested in obtaining documents from you, there are other legal procedures through which to obtain them. Do not ask your lawyer to produce anything in his or her file, because similar rules apply.
- Never joke or make wisecracks in your testimony.Humor is not apparent on a transcript and may make you look crude or cavalier about the truth.
- Never blame what you have done on lawyer advice.Instead, you should have an explanation based on the facts of your case, not what a lawyer told you to do. If you do not understand the rationale behind the advice given, then ask your lawyer about it before your case.
- Do not volunteer any facts not requested.Such information may hinder your case.
- After your testimony, do not chat with the opponents or attorneys. Remember, opposing counsel is your legal enemy. Do not let his or her friendly manner cause you to drop your guard.
- Do not try to anticipate whether your response will help or hinder your case. Answer each question truthfully. Your lawyer can deal with the truth effectively, but he or she will be handicapped by any other kind of answer.
- Do not fence or argue with opposing counsel.Opposing counsel has a right to question you, and if you respond with smart talk or give evasive answers, opposing counsel may jump down your throat. Do not answer a question with a question unless the question you are asked is not clear.